Addiction can often cultivate in children years before the first seed of destruction bursts through the landscape. If your child/children are showing drug related behaviors or actively using/drinking, all hope is not lost. There are many ways a parent can create a safer, more positive outcome during the course of the child’s addiction as well as during their recovery.
During my 15 years battling a heroin addiction, my family has been through many different, and many difficult measures to tame this beast. A few of them worked, but many did not. After years of gathered sobriety, I began hunting relentlessly- studying and trying to understand addiction. In this article, I will go over what has worked for my family as well as countless others.
What works: Talking to your children about addiction (before they have experimented with drugs/alcohol/other) is extremely important. Waiting until they are teenagers to begin the conversation is not a good idea. Between 7 and 12 years is ideal and the discussion should be age appropriate. Monologs are not always the best strategy. Open the topic and allow them to ask questions and be curious. A dialog will be far more effective and won’t sound like a boring parental lecture. You can even use props. Make it fun, but be completely honest.
What doesn’t work: Hoping that if you ignore the topic, your children will never encounter drugs, alcohol, or other addictive behaviors. Sweeping important, life altering topics under the rug will only escalate future problems. It is irresponsible, untrustworthy and harmful to the parent/child bond. If you do not bring up this topic to your child, Bobby, (you know, the long haired potty mouth in his class) will tell him all about drugs and alcohol; except for the fact that it will slowly destroy his life (and yours.)
Active Addiction – Experimenting/growing addiction
Stopping addiction behavior in the beginning stages is extremely difficult. That unfortunately is the good news. If your child is experimenting and showing obvious signs of destructive and addictive behaviors, your chances to turn this around are greatest right now. However, that percentage is rather small. The reason for this is because drugs and alcohol are fun! They make your child feel good. They relieve your child of social anxieties and awkwardness. Stress, problems, loneliness, shyness, depression, and anger will have seemingly disappeared for your child. These early signs of life-long addiction can be interrupted, but it will take massive amounts of work, time, energy and resources.
What works: A well-planned family intervention (amateur or professional.) If it is non-threatening, positive, and un-blaming- an intervention can help tremendously. The child is self-medicating because of a lack of something. The entire family should be willing to seek counseling; together or separate, to find the reasons for the behaviors. If the child is self-medicating, I would argue there are unknown issues within the family structure. If these issues don’t get uncovered, talked about and solved- nothing will change. Be open and honest. Ask your child questions.
What doesn’t work: Chalking the behavior up to “it’s just a phase. He/she will grow out of it.” Getting angry/upset with the child. Abuse or neglect. Punishing the child. Accepting the child’s response of “it isn’t a big deal” or “it was a one-time thing” or “I promise I will quit!” These responses, however good-intentioned they may seem, will not fix the problem. We now understand that the problem IS NOT the drugs or the alcohol or food or gambling or the sex. These are only symptoms of a much deeper problem. Let’s say you had developed a gopher problem in your beautiful, well-kept lawn. Would grabbing a shovel and re-filling in the burrow holes solve your gopher problem? It would help the problem temporarily but the holes will always reappear. To your child, drugs and alcohol is the shovel full of dirt, temporarily filling in the holes. We need to help them figure out why the holes are there.
Of course, interventions are not the only way to aid your child. I would argue they are necessary but not sufficient in turning around this family-destroying nuclear submarine.
Families who have a loved one in active addiction often find themselves wrapped tightly into the vicious grip of the addiction. Many times this happens without any member of the family realizing this compounding problem has coupled itself to the family structure. As many of us know, this is called enabling and it creates a co-dependency between the addict and family members.
Co-dependence in addiction is extremely difficult to avoid. To avoid it, the family will have to go through soul-crushingly painful emotions (and actions) to keep the relationship decoupled; but at the same time, this is a healthy process. Some call this “tough love.” Breaking down the meaning of the word enable, you and your family can determine if you are, in fact, enabling your loved one’s addiction. It is easy to justify your enabling by calling it “love.” Don’t make this costly mistake.
- To make able; give power, means, competence, or ability to; authorize:
- To make possible or easy.
Examples of enabling an addict:
- Ignoring obvious signs of destructive behaviors.
- Helping an active addict through financial means.
- Housing an active addict.
- Aiding in any action that allows the addict to continue the same behaviors.
- Not allowing an open, honest, helpful, positive and emotionally available environment.
There are many other ways to enable an active addict and each one in the list can be broken down to many direct instances. The list above is generalized and truncated to make room for other information. Enabling is far easier to avoid in the beginning stages of addiction and will become far more difficult to deflect as the addiction matures.
This is because addiction becomes more and more demanding with time. The course of my addiction was exactly this way as well. In the beginning, I didn’t need anybody’s help. I had money and a car and I paid my own bills. I was able to sell enough of the weed I would purchase so I rarely needed out-of-pocket expenses. I always made my money back.
Then slowly it became $20 here and $50 there. Still, I was able to manage my finances and my “recreational habits.” This of course came to an end and I was doing cocaine and pain killers, but only on the weekends. The extra fun was justified for the extra expenses. Before I knew it, I had lost my job and my license to drive. I was pawning my belongings and “borrowing” money from family. Slowly but surely, my addiction overshadowed my old life. To continue shooting up heroin and cocaine, I needed help from others. I was very convincing and highly manipulative. I could convince a fish to buy a stolen bicycle. It was so painful for some of my family members to watch me suffer from withdrawals, so they would help me score more heroin- and they would pay for it. You do not want to put yourself in this position.
Going to therapy and some form of recovery that tailors to your loved one, is absolutely essential. Addiction cannot be fixed or cured in one quick swoop. If you break your leg, you go through months and months of physical therapy to regain flexibility, movement, and range of motion in your leg. You can’t relearn how to walk in a simple session. Your mental health is the same way. It should be viewed as a life-long habit to maintain and keep healthy. If it is damaged, as it is with an addict, there must be continual therapeutics in place. Talk therapy, journaling, dream analysis, recovery programs, AA/NA, 12-step; there are many options and they should be taken advantage of. Find what works best for the individual. Getting to the problem needs to contain a breakdown of the childhood. I will argue that is where you will find the gopher.
In the following video, an ex-heroin addict shares about what she needed from her family while in recovery:
If you, as the parent, are in the recovery process with your loved one, I am sure you are aware of relapse. You most likely spend every waking moment scared and worried that your loved one will go back to drinking/using drugs in the future. You have most likely experienced numerous relapses already and you now can only hope and pray that this time will be different.
I know that telling you not to worry does not help, and you continue to worry. Well, don’t worry. I say this because relapse is just part of addiction. It happens to us all. Many, many times. I have relapsed over 100 times over 15 years. This may seem overwhelming to you, but I assure you that it is part of the process. Recovery is a massive amount of work and to do it with consistency, honesty, vigor and openness takes numerous attempts. It has been the hardest process of my life.
Relapses are legion and I would argue they are a necessary part of the growing process. Each relapse, even though a small step back, is a growing moment and a building block of self-knowledge. Each time I relapsed, I learned something new. I learned where my breaking points and danger zones are. I also learned what to avoid. With each one, I became a stronger, more knowledgeable man. Finally, I now see that my addiction genes were triggered “on” by my childhood experiences.
ACE- Adverse Childhood Experience Test
I took the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) test and I score in the 5to6 range. (10 questions- 0 being no adverse experiences and 10 being the highest) It has been extremely difficult to look at my childhood objectively. I have always normalized my childhood considering it a normal, over-all happy childhood. Scoring a 5-6 is not “normal”. For more information on the ACE test, click here.
Giving support to your loved one during recovery is essential. Positivity and motivation are helpful to an addict; especially in the beginning. I think it would be costly to believe that a relapse is not possible. In my experience, it can happen at any moment, at any time. Specific reasons for why are often unknown. HALT; which means hungry, angry, lonely, tired can be a great way to keep unnecessary relapses at bay. If I do everything I can to avoid these four things, my odds for sobriety are greatly increased. Again, these are necessary but not sufficient means for recovery.
Deferred gratification is something addicts cannot do very well. Addictive behavior by its very nature is the opposite of deferred gratification so this is something addicts have to learn with much pain and frustration. Helping to teach this concept is vital. Unfortunately, an addict’s brain will not aid in this process the same way a “normal” brain does. It will be a timely, empirically achieved process that occurs through experience, not a visceral moment of clarity. I am still not very good at it. A smoker knows that smoking causes cancer but the deferred gratification pay-off to becoming a non-smoker is decades away. It is easier to smoke now, hope and pray later.
Long term sobriety is possible for addicts. The internet is a great place to find resources on addiction. With there being so much information online, it is best to double check your sources of information. Not all resources are legitimate or accurate in their findings. Libraries, as well as families who have been through addiction, can also be helpful. Finding a good therapist can be helpful to the family in so many ways. Recovery centers like Luxury Beach Rehab can be priceless resources to help your loved one through the crushing waves of addiction. Luxury Beach Rehab advocates all the latest addiction methods that have been shown to be effective and have a knowledgeable staff. Addiction cannot be beat alone. Families should reach out, get help, and find peace in their lives once again.
Dustin L. John
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